ORCC: At Oregon Campus Compact, we have recently re-focused our mission to emphasize improving educational outcomes for first generation students and students of color by engaging them in service-learning. What about this excites you? How has your leadership at Warner Pacific supported this mission?
President Cook: Well, it’s right at the heart of what we’re up to. Five years ago when I was inaugurated, I declared to the community and to the campus that we would begin to see our mission through the lens of being in the urban context and recognize that we want to be in the city, for the city. At that time, our student population was about 13% percent multicultural students. This Saturday, the freshman class coming in will be 55% multicultural students.
We have really focused on our neighborhood and our community. Most of our students are from the Portland Metro area. The expected family contributions of our students are pretty low so we completely re-calibrated our tuition a couple years ago and dropped it by 23% to say “we’re going to be accessible to students”. It’s a pretty amazing group of students we get to work with.
The other thing that happened when I stepped into the role is that we changed the way we looked at service learning. We were doing some service, but it wasn’t really focused and didn’t have a clear emphasis on connection to the learning outcomes of a student. So we began to say “ok, how do we apply service-learning across the whole campus?”. We ask all of our students to do service as a part of their Faith & Service requirements here at Warner Pacific.
For us, that means serving off the campus and serving in the community and serving in places of poverty, places of oppression, and places where there is great need. It’s not ok for our students to say “I’m going to serve in my church because that’s where I’m comfortable.” We want our students to be in places that are new to them where they can be exposed to new environments and new needs.
Last year our students did almost 51,000 hours of service in the city of Portland. When we calculate that by the factor of what they say volunteer hours are worth, that’s about $1.1 million that our students gave back to the city of Portland.
Another thing we’ve recently done is started a First Year Learning Communities Program. We recognize when we’re serving a population that is more than 60% first generation college students and more than 60% Pell Grant eligible, and now about 55% non-white, they’re stepping into an environment that can be so unfamiliar to their families. We want to make sure that we provide them a context that is supportive and that mentors them and helps them navigate the system of higher education, which has often been very oppressive.
These First Year Learning Communities are set up so that there are 2 faculty members and 2 peer advisors that work with about 17 or 18 students for the whole year. They all take 3 classes together over the course of the year. Each of those First Year Learning Communities has a relationship to the city of Portland as part of the topic. So we are using the city of Portland as a classroom, often in a service-learning capacity. So it is woven deeply throughout all of what we’re doing.
ORCC: How has Warner Pacific’s partnership with ORCC helped to support these changes?
President Cook: That partnership has been huge for us. We were introduced to Campus Compact when we were launching into the service learning direction. We applied for our first on-campus AmeriCorps member and asked her to help us think about service learning and what it would look like. She did an excellent job and that gave us the infrastructure and the mindset to begin incorporating service-learning into our whole institution.
We’ve had several AmeriCorps VISTAs since then (we even shared one with ORCC for a year!) and that’s been really instrumental in helping us get our traction in doing what we believe is at the core of who we are. Sometimes you have the aspiration and intention to be something, but our work with AmeriCorps and Oregon Campus Compact has been important to making those aspirations a reality.
We’ve also been very involved with the MLK Day of Service since the inception of that program. That’s something we see as such an important part of our students engagement. We do our own day of service in the first three weeks of school, but then we are also really active in the MLK Day of Service as well.
ORCC: As a statewide leader serving on this board, what do you hope to bring to the mission of supporting community engaged learning?
President Cook: One of the things that is sometimes challenging is for us to see beyond our borders as higher education institutions. For us, community engaged learning has been such a vital part of our student learning experience and I think it equips them so well.
We know from seeing where our students go that it shapes them. Our motto is: “Where faith and scholarship leads to service”. We believe that service should be the outcome of our education. We’ve reframed that significantly and enhanced and emphasized it substantially more in the last few years.
I know I will be able to speak to the benefit of service learning and the benefit of these programs. My own experience here at Warner Pacific and with Campus Compact and AmeriCorps has been so positive. I can be an advocate for these programs with every bit of confidence and conviction.
ORCC: How will Warner Pacific play a role in helping to reach the Governor’s 40-40-20 goal?
President Cook: We’re providing not only a traditional program, but also an adult degree program. So we have a lot of students who attend class one night a week and we have six locations around the Portland Metro area as well as online program offerings. Among our adult learner program, 70% of the student population is first generation.
For a lot of adult learners, we’re providing a pathway for either an Associates degree or a Bachelor’s degree - we offer both. We will have students who are adults who have not had opportunity for advancement or for degree completion and the learning is in a format that feels age comfortable and appropriate to them.
The Adult Learning Program not only gives them access to education, but also really provides a supportive environment. The students move through the program in cohorts, which provides them with an important structure.
We are looking at how to best partner with community colleges to help them move their students on to the next step. And we have the capacity to do so. We believe in deploying education out into the community so it is contextualized and accessible to people where they live. An additional benefit of this is that it increases our capacity because we don’t have to build buildings for it.
We are so grateful for the leadership of President Cook and all of our Board Members. At least 50% of ORCC's Board Members are Campus Presidents from ORCC Member Campuses. Any Campus Presidents who are interested in joining the ORCC Board of Directors should contact Executive Director, Josh Todd.
REMINDER: Save the Date for the Campus Compact Annual Presidents Dinner
Thursday, November 13th, 2014
University Club Downtown Portland.
Topic: "Community engaged learning as a tool to promote educational excellence and equity for first generation and students of color"